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Metal Particles Could Be The Clean Fuel Of The Future


With the Paris climate change agreement having been reached (although perhaps not with the level of commitment to satisfy all environmentalists), there is a focus on many aspects of the environment, including renewables and ‘clean’ technologies.

One area where there could be an innovative advance is with metal particles. These could provide the basis for a new generation of ‘cleaner’ fuels.

According to McGill University professor Jeffrey Bergthorson, metal powders have more potential for powering larger vehicles than alternatives like solar and wind power. With this, fine powders of metal (which look like flour) could have the power to drive power external-combustion engines. When burned, the metal powders react with the air to form stable, nontoxic solid-oxide products. These can be used or they can be collected relatively easily.

Metal particles fuel

New research points to metal powders as potential replacement for fossil fuels (Image Credits: McGill University)

The research at McGill is focused on utilizing metal powders as types of recyclable fuels that store clean primary energy for later use. The research is looking at iron first, as this is the metal powder with the greatest potential. An advantage with iron is it is easily recyclable and can be collected as a waste product from other industries.

Speaking with Lab Manager magazine, David Jarvis, who is head of strategic and emerging technologies at the European Space Agency, enthused:

“We are very interested in this technology because it opens the door to new propulsion systems that can be used in space and on earth.”

More work needs to be done; however, there are signs that the technology carries considerable potential as an alternative source of power.

The research is published in the journal Applied Energy. The paper is titled “Direct combustion of recyclable metal fuels for zero-carbon heat and power.”

About the author

Tim Sandle

Dr. Tim Sandle is a chartered biologist and holds a first class honours degree in Applied Biology; a Masters degree in education; and has a doctorate from Keele University.